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Sustainable Fish Harvest
Fisheries and Oceans Canada establishes harvest limits for wild fish stocks to protect stocks for the future. Of the 155 major stocks assessed in 2012, 148 (95%) were harvested at levels considered to be sustainable. These levels are based on the best available scientific information. For 83 stocks (54%), there is sufficient historical information to set the level using the mathematically based removal reference, while the harvest levels for an additional 65 stocks (42%) were set using other scientific approaches. Seven stocks (5%) were harvested above approved levels. The number of fish stocks harvested within levels approved by the Department has improved since 2011, when 11 stocks (7%) were harvested above approved levels.Footnote  The improvement is in large part due to the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Framework Policies.
Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, Canada, 2011 to 2012
The bar chart shows the proportion of major wild fish stocks in each of 3 categories. In 2011, 45% were harvested at or below the removal reference, 48% were harvested at or below other approved levels, and 7% were harvested above the removal reference or other approved levels. In 2012, 54% were harvested at or below the removal reference, 42% were harvested at or below other approved levels, and 5% were harvested above the removal reference or other approved levels.
Note: The removal reference is a harvest rate that is estimated to be biologically sustainable, based on an analytical assessment of historical stock productivity data. Major stocks were harvested above the removal reference and/or approved levels primarily in competitive fisheries or because of landings in other directed fisheries. Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans (2013) Fishery Checklist version 4.
Overharvest sometimes occurs when fishers compete for a share of the total allowable catch, or when fish are caught as bycatchFootnote  in another fishery. Six of the seven stocks that were harvested above approved levels in 2012 are subject to quota reconciliation, where overharvest of a stock in one year is deducted from the harvest limit established for the following year.
Major stocks (freshwater and marine) are classified using a consistent set of criteria, and include all stocks with a landed value of more than $1 million or a landed weight of more than 2000 tonnes, as well as other important stocks (see Data Sources and Methods for details).
The key decisions made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Fisheries Resource Management Directorate) are how much of a stock should be harvested and by whom. Harvest rates include all removals of fish (i.e. targeted fishing and bycatch mortality) by all types of fishing. Limits are determined on the basis of the best available information and knowledge of the biology, economics and social aspects associated with a given stock. The overall goal is always conservation, responsible and sustainable harvesting practices, and equitable distribution of the resource among user groups. A precautionary approachFootnote  is used. When scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, decisions must still be taken, and the absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to the resource. “The precautionary approach to fisheries recognises that changes in fisheries systems are only slowly reversible, difficult to control, not well understood, and subject to changing environment and human values”.Footnote 
Harvest rates are reported against the removal reference as a baseline in cases where a removal reference is known. The removal reference is an approach for determining the maximum acceptable removal rate for the stock when there is sufficient historical data on stock productivity to allow the level to be estimated analytically. As Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to implement the precautionary approach, removal reference levels are established for more stocks. Forty seven stocks (30%) have fully defined removal references, and a further 28 stocks (18%) have partially defined removal references. While most of the major stocks have had some components of the precautionary approach implemented (86%), only 19% have had all components fully implemented.Footnote 
Sustainable fish harvest, by stock group
Stocks can be grouped based on similar biology. Of eight groups, seven are currently harvested within limits. Some groundfish stocks have been over harvested. This is partially because groundfish are often caught through a competitive fishery; total harvest is more difficult to control in a competitive fishery than when fishers have individual quotas. Groundfish are often captured as bycatch in mixed stock fishing areas.
Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, by group, Canada, 2012
The bar chart shows the number of stocks by harvest rate (Above removal reference or other approved levels; At or below other approved levels; At or below removal reference) for each stock group (Marine mammals, Groundfish, Small Pelagics, Large Pelagics, Salmonids, Crustaceans, Molluscs and Others).
Note: Pelagic fish live in midwater or close to the surface, in contrast to groundfish, which are usually caught near the ocean bottom. Crustaceans are shelled animals with joints, such as lobster, crab and shrimp. Molluscs include bivalve shellfish species such as clams, oysters and mussels.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2013) Fishery Checklist version 4.
Most stocks, including all groundfish, that are harvested above approved levels are subject to quota reconciliation, where the overharvest is deducted from the harvest limit for the following year.
Some species and stock groups are more difficult to monitor than others. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working to improve stock status reference points and control harvest levels through the adoption of the precautionary approach.
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Aquatic Species
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Underwater World
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - The Precautionary Approach in Fisheries Management
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Sustainable Fisheries Framework
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fisheries Management Decisions
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Quota Reconciliation
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Resource Management
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Integrated Fisheries Management Plans
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Policy on Managing Bycatch
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries - Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introductions, 1996
This indicator is used to measure progress toward Target 5.1: Sustainable Fisheries – Improve the management and conservation of major stocks of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2013-2016.
- Footnote 1
Revised since previous reporting based on new information.
- Footnote 2
"Bycatch" is the part of a catch that is not the target of the fishery. It is caught incidentally during the fishing activity.
- Footnote 3
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2009) A Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach. Retrieved 27 September, 2013.
- Footnote 4
Food and Agriculture Organization (1996) FAOTechnical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries - Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introductions. Accessed 23 October, 2013.
- Footnote 5
The components of the Precautionary Approach are: upper stock reference points; limit reference points; removal reference points for each of the three zones (critical, cautious and healthy); and developed, implemented and reviewed harvest decision rules.
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